Stress affects our bodies physically, mentally and emotionally. Some stress can be good for us. It can help us grow and develop new skills. When it is positive stress, it is called eustress. However, the negative kind can cause us distress. It is the same for our dogs.
Living in our modern world can be stressful for our dogs and challenge their bodies. Our dogs are exposed to processed food, artificial chemical, environmental contaminants, anti-microbials, sleep disruptions, noise, light disturbance, tobacco, psychological distress, being left alone for periods of time, the list continues.
- Hunger or thirst – our dogs need access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
- Discomfort – our dogs need an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
- Pain, injury or disease – our dogs need us to prevent this happening or rapid diagnosis and treatment
- Not being able to express (most) normal behaviour – we need to provide sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
- Fear and distress – we need to ensure conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
Stress is a biological response to something that makes our dogs feel threatened. When a dog reacts to stress, their brain activates the sympathetic nervous system that controls the ‘flight or fight response’, this causes the hypothalamus to release neurotransmitters that create a negative feedback loop and the immune system activates to prepare for possible infection.
When our dogs feel out of control, fearful or overwhelmed their bodies produce a chemical cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol. It can take up to 6 days for a dog’s physiology to return to normal homeostasis depending on the dog’s emotional reaction. Short periods of stress are unlikely to affect the dogs health and well-being however when stress becomes long term stress it can be seriously detrimental to health.
Can you recognise the signs of stress in dogs?
- Fur shedding
- Coat scurf
- Lip licking
- Stress yawning
- Displacement behaviours e.g. scratching or sniffing
- Height seeking behaviour
- Loss of appetite
- Learned helpless
A dog will communicate that it is stressed by increasing distance from the ‘threat’. They will do this by barking, growling and lunging, stiffening up, staring; growling, snapping; and finally biting. Or they will try to make themselves smaller and less of a target to the threat - yawning, blinking, nose licking; turning their heads away; turning their bodies away, sitting, pawing; walking away; creeping, ears back; standing crouched, tail tucked under; lying down, legs up.
Relaxation is key to reducing tension and it aids the natural flow of energy and removes blockages in subtle energy fields. It is vital that our dogs get to rest and relax in their daily routines. When our dog does not get enough sleep and recuperation time they will experience low health on all levels – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
What Can We Do to Help Our Dogs?
- Feed a balanced diet and provide clean water
- Encourage rest and relaxation
- Provide physical activity
- Spend time in biodiverse natural environments
- Provide positive emotional encounters with other dogs
- Allow your dog to trust you by removing them from stressful situations and helping them to learn to react differently
- Never force the dog to be near its ‘trigger’ – this can cause a reaction to escalate to lashing out or cause flooding and learned helplessness
- Never punish your dog for reacting to stress
- Prepare for stressful events
- Teach our dogs to become resilient
- Be kind, think of them always as individuals
I offer individual tailored 1-2-1 Canine Coaching Sessions.
Each session is 1-2 hours long and includes a follow up email report and telephone support.
Sessions start at £45, packages are available for multiple sessions.